Pope Delivers Christmas Message after Attack by Woman

Vatican City, Dec 25 (DPA) Pope Benedict XVI delivered his Christmas Day message and blessing Friday, showing no apparent affects from the fall he sustained when a psychologically disturbed woman knocked him down during midnight mass.

The 82-year-old pontiff also delivered his Christmas good-wishes in 65 languages during the noon ceremony in front of thousands of people gathered in St Peter's Square.

At the end of the ceremony, which was broadcast live to dozens of countries, Benedict held his arms aloft and waved to the faithful from a balcony at St Peter's Basilica.

The pope's English greeting said: "May the birth of the Prince of Peace remind the world where its true happiness lies; and may your hearts be filled with hope and joy, for the Saviour has been born for us."

In his "to the city and to the world" Urbi et Orbi message, Benedict recalled how Jesus' birth in Bethlehem over 2,000 years ago represents "a special light" shining on the human family and the Church.

The pontiff then placed the meaning of the Christmas event in a modern-day context.

Christmas represented a sign of hope for a "human family profoundly affected by a grave financial crisis, yet even more by a moral crisis, and by the painful wounds of wars and conflicts", Benedict said.

The pontiff also referred to several trouble spots around the world, including a call for an end to injustice in the Democratic Republic of Congo, respect for human rights in Guinea and Niger, and for the people of Madagascar to "overcome their internal division".

In Europe and North America, the Church "urges people to leave behind the selfish and technicist mentality", Benedict said.

Then, in a reference to the Catholic Church's stance against abortion, he said so-called advanced nations needed to show "respect for the persons who are most defenceless, starting with the unborn".

Earlier, papal spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said the pontiff was "well", despite the incident at Thursday's midnight mass.

Lombardi said the woman who threw herself at the pontiff, grabbing the shawl he was wearing and causing him to fall as he led the mass procession in St Peter's Basilica, was not "armed".

The woman, who jumped over a barrier to get to the pope before she was held by Vatican security guards, was identified by Lombardi as Susanna Maiolo, 25, who has both Swiss and Italian citizenship.

Maiolo was been placed under observation at a medical institution in Rome, Lombardi said. She had previously tried to accost the pope at the same mass a year ago, but was blocked by Vatican guards before she could reach him.

A senior Vatican cleric, 87-year-old French Cardinal Roger Etchegaray, who also fell in the scuffle, was receiving treatment for a fractured femur in a Rome hospital, Lombardi said.

Shortly after the incident, Benedict was helped to his feet by aides, and taking hold once again of the golden cross he was carrying before being knocked down, continued to lead the procession for the beginning of the mass.

The Vatican's traditional midnight mass this year began two hours earlier than usual in order to allow the pontiff some rest.

Earlier this month the Vatican denied Italian media speculation that the decision to begin the mass at 10 p.m. (2100 GMT) was due to unspecified "health problems" afflicting the German-born pontiff.

At the time, papal spokesman Lombardi explained that the move - first announced by the Vatican in October - aimed to "tire the Pope a bit less", giving him a few extra hours sleep before his Christmas Day duties.



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